Both Robbie Deans and Quade Cooper hail from New Zealand, and it is these two Kiwis who have hogged the Australian press lines recently.
Deans, head coach of Australia, has picked his 31 man squad from which to select his Test side for the upcoming games versus the Lions. He has made it perfectly clear that he is his own man, but this will seemingly come at a cost. As expected, he has left out fly-half Quade Cooper.
Cooper is arguably the most exciting talent in a number 10 jersey anywhere in the world. With both the vision and ability to throw passes 30 yards off either hand, Cooper is able to see and do things other players can’t. Some of his play against the Lions on Saturday for the Queensland Reds was superb, taking advantage of a hastily assembled back line to expose flaws that previous opponents could not.
He works hard, he is tough (the man has boxed professionally) and although unpredictable, is able to manage games with authority when given the right platform. He also maintains a very Australian tradition of being on the attack at all times.
He is Danny Cipriani with a punch.
Deans has been the head coach for the Wallabies for 5 years, following great success with the Crusaders franchise in New Zealand. He has always built teams that play to their strengths and their opposition’s weaknesses. Or did until recently.
Cooper made a comment last year that he felt the way the Australian team was being run was ‘toxic’. Deans says he has left him out because of differences in how he wants the game to be played. Is this true or is it pig-headedness?
Deans made another big call in re-selecting Kurtley Beale and it is at this point that some of his thought processes are exposed.
Beale is a special player, no doubt. Not many full-backs in world rugby have his all round package. He is quick, strong, reads the game exceptionally well, is great under the high ball, can kick out of hand and runs outstanding lines, hard in midfield and wide.
He also has a very short fuse, and a publicly acknowledged drink problem. On a recent trip home on the team bus he was a few tinnies in and attacked two team-mates, including his captain. He is a brilliant talent, but only 3 weeks ago came back to playing any sort of rugby following a break because of alcohol related issues. He should be rested, not rushed back.
There is an impasse of logic in what Robbie Deans has done. Selecting Kurtley Beale says a number of things to rugby fans and players in Australia:
• players can behave badly and get selected
• drink problems are something that can be swept under the carpet
• the team, and Deans’ job, is more important than the health (physical and mental) of a man who needs help
Leaving out Cooper would seem to indicate that:
• creative, unpredictable talents are not welcome under the current regime
• Australia are going to try and take on the Lions at their own game
• there is no way back for players who speak their mind – much better to punch your captain than offer a comment
These distractions could be the greatest bluff in the history of Lions’ tours, as they serve to create a false sense of security for the tourists. Or are they are the last, foolish happenings of what will be seen as an all black period at the end of Deans’ reign?
By Chris Francis (@mckrisp)